DASMARINAS, Cavite – Yuka Saso took off from where she left off last week, shooting a two-under 70 to seize a one-stroke lead over defending champion Bianca Pagdanganan and four others at the start of the 2018 Champion Infinity Philippine Ladies Open at the Orchard Golf and Country Club here on Wednesday.
The Fil-Japanese actually bucked poor putting in the early going at the backside of the Palmer layout where she muffed at least three birdie chances but hit birdies on Nos. 18, 1 and 7 to negate her missed green bogeys on the third and eighth.
“The greens were difficult to read, there were putts that I thought would have gone in. But that’s golf. I just have to putt better tomorrow (today) to get a good score,” said Saso, who set in motion her bid for a first PLO crown after a runner-up and third place finishes in the last two years of the country’s premier championship organized and conducted by the Women’s Golf Association of the Philippines.
It likewise lined up the 16-year-old Saso for a second straight championship after humbling an elite pro field in the ICTSI Ayala Greenfield Ladies Challenge, the kickoff leg of the 2018 Ladies Philippine Golf Tour, last Friday.
Pagdanganan, hard-pressed to keep the crown she won in record fashion last year, also struggled on the unpredictable surface and had two three-putts and a missed-gree bogey but came up with four birdies to momentarily seize the lead at 71 with Harmie Constantino, Mikha Fortuna, Isabella Leung of Hong Kong and Thai Phannarai Meeson-us before Saso came in one of the late flights to wrest control.
“I kept misreading the greens,” rued Pagdanganan, who pooled a 16-under 200 total at Wack Wack to win by nine last year. “Luckily, I’m not far behind.”
Constantino, a many-time member of the national team, and Meesom-us rallied at the back with 35s while Leung blew a one-under frontside card with a closing 36 to join Pagdanganan at second.
Fortuna actually took early control with a hot 33, including birdies on Nos. 6, 8 and 9 inside four feet. But the top The Country Club bet, winner of the Malaysian Juniors Open last December, bogeyed the last two holes to slip to joint second in the event backed by Champion Infinity, Eva Air, San Miguel Corp., Metro Pacific, Atty. Gilberto Duavit, Inquirer, Alveo Land, G&W Clubshares, Inc., Crimson Hotel Filinvest, Golfers Club Shares Inc., Cherrylume and NGAP.
Thais Chookaew Pimkwan and Trachuentong Pinkaew lay just two strokes off Saso with 72s while Nicole Abelar and Pramphun Kultida, also of Thailand, shot identical 73s and Shannon Tan of Singapore turned in a 74, followed by Tomita Arejola, Junia Gabasa and Hailey Loh, also of Singapore, who carded identical 76s, ensuring a fierce battle for the crown in the 54-hole championship are Province of Cavite, Luisita Golf and Country Club, Mileage Asia, Vermogen, Golf Depot, Orchard Golf and Country Club, Alabang Ladies Chapter, Forest Hills GCC, Tagaytay Highlands, Sta. Elena Golf Club, Manila Golf Club and Canlubang GCC.